Westport is a charming town on the west coast of Ireland, huddled within Clew Bay, and is gorgeously Georgian in style, with flower-adorned bridges that cross the river Carrow Beg and wide promenades that stretch out on either side. The town is a colourful collection of refined buildings on cobbled streets and tree-lined roads. The skyline above is dwarfed by the famous pilgrimage mountain of Croagh Patrick. It lies to the west, near the coastal village of Murrisk, its conical shape piercing the clouds.
A stone's throw from the town is Westport Quay, no longer used for commercial shipping but instead a tourist haven of characterful restaurants and pubs. The Clew Bay Heritage Centre, a maritime museum, is open to the public. Along the seafront, visitors can take a boat out and explore the extraordinary island formations of the bay. Legend has it that Clew Bay contains 365 islands. As the locals say: "An island for every day of the year." It was here that we spent a few sunny days in November, exploring the sights around the bay.
The famous Blue Flag beaches of western Ireland can be found dotted all along the Wild Atlantic Way. Long stretches of white, sandy shore are lapped by the swells of the Atlantic. These beaches are a prime location for a seaside stroll or for lovers of water sports.
Westport House was designed by the Georgian architect James Wyatt and is considered to be one of Ireland's finest stately homes. It was built by the Browne family, direct descendants of the legendary Grace O'Malley. The house and grounds are open to the public and tell the story of Irish aristocracy across the centuries. The house sits close to Westport Quay and commands stunning views of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick.
The eerie ruins of Burrishoole Abbey are found northwest of Newport, nestled within a quiet estuary. Founded for the Dominican order in 1469, the abbey had a troubled history. Despite the Dominican friars being repeatedly forced to flee, the building remained in use for centuries. The abbey finally fell into ruin when the roof collapsed in 1793. The nave, chancel, and tower all remain to this day and the surrounding cemetery is still used.
The legend of Grace O'Malley, also known as Gráinne O'Malley or Granuaile, is woven deep into the heart of Clew Bay's culture. Grace was chieftain of the O'Malley clan, in the Murrisk region, during the 16th-century. Sometimes known as a Pirate Queen or The Sea Queen of Connacht, she inherited her father's trading business and went on to build a wealthy empire on the seas. As a skilled sailor, well-educated, and reputedly formidable, Grace had the command of hundreds of men and pushed back against English tyranny in Ireland. Most famously, she was granted a visit with Elizabeth I at her court in Greenwich Palace.
Rockfleet Castle is just one of many, many places in Clew Bay that have been touched by the life of Grace O'Malley. Grace married her second husband, Richard Bourke, in 1566. The marriage may have been motivated by Grace's desire to enlarge her holdings. Bourke owned Rockfleet Castle, also known as Carraigahowley Castle. Legend has it that Garce and her followers locked themselves inside the Castle. From a window, Grace called to Bourke, "I dismiss you." The words effectively ended the marriage, but since Grace was in possession of the castle she got to keep it.
The castle is a typical 16th-century tower house, four storeys tall and built in a strategic position on Clew Bay.
The Wild Atlantic Way winds through mountains, past loughs, and soars over hilltop views of the ocean. One particularly unspoiled part of this long, coastal road is Silver Strand. As little as twenty years ago there was no access for cars in this region, meaning that this wild slice of natural beauty was virtually untouched. This quiet, raw area is dominated by the magnificent beach. Silvery sands stretch out to the clear waters of the Atlantic, over rising sand dunes sheltered from the wind by craggy headlands. There are fantastic views across to Inishturk island from this remote spot.
MOUNTAINS AND LOUGHS
Snaking through the Maumturks, a glorious range of mountains heading toward Leenane in Connemara, you pass wide loughs and striking views. Along with Killary Fjord and Connemara's National Park, this is surely one of the most beautiful places to visit. Nothing compares to Irish countryside when the sun comes out.
Along a winding mountain pass, you can find a lookout point and local beauty spot that commands the most wonderful views across the mountains, valleys and loughs. We stumbled upon the spot bathed in the pink light of dusk.
The pink stones of Mulranny Beach tumble down onto soft golden sand. With spectacular views across Clew Bay and towards Clare Island, this seafront is peppered with coves and sandy banks making it an ideal place for a stroll. Sheep casually graze on the surrounding machair dunes, as the lapping waves of Clew Bay wet the stones. This place is ethereally beautiful, with its endless horizon and hypnotic pastel hues.
Wesport is just one charming central point from which to explore the gems around Clew Bay. From the beautiful seaside villages that line the bay to the beaches that pepper the shoreline, from the historic buildings that tell so many stories to the sheer beauty of the rural landscape, from the rustic quays to the mountain of Croagh Patrick crowning it all, this place is just one beautiful adventure after another.